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School Discipline Reform Will Be on General Assembly Docket

When students misbehave, how much discipline is too much? Lawmakers will be tackling that issue when they convene in Richmond for this year’s session.

Efforts to reform school discipline range from reducing the number of days students can be suspended to preventing elementary-school students from being expelled. Amy Woolard at the Legal Aid Justice Center says using exclusion as a consequence to misbehavior — in other words, keeping a student in detention or at home instead of in the classroom — that has unintended consequences that are harmful to the child and the school.

“No one is saying for example that when kids misbehave or violate student codes of conduct that there shouldn’t be accountability," she says. "What we would like for Virginia as a state to do is to look at the kinds of consequences.”

One consequence she would like to see changed is the number of days a student can be suspended. One bill her organization helped craft reduces the number from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. She says what often happens is when children misbehave, they are suspended for the rest of the year.

“So those can really act like a functional expulsion. It’s very difficult for kids to be put out of school for long periods of time and to come back and recover academically in any meaningful way.”

Another bill lawmakers will consider will prevent disruptive behavior from triggering long-term suspension or expulsion, except for the most extreme cases involving violence or threats of violence.

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